Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tokiya 陶板屋

Tonight I was in for a pleasant surprise. I was recommended to a nice restaurant called Tokiya 陶板屋. They have several locations across Taipei, including Ximending area, Zhongshan MRT area, Dongqu area, Songjian Nanjing MRT station area and many more. During the booking process for a Sunday evening, we discovered that it was a very popular restaurant even for a Sunday evening. We booked at 4pm for a 7pm reservations. Most locations were booked full for the evening except for one at 8:30. That was the Songjian Nanjing one. Once I arrived, although very late due to being horrible lost, I found the place to have a very nice interior design. It had a simple post modern design with blacks and white and some wood in places. With the addition of the mirrors, the black shelves and see through boxy art railings, it was hard to determine where the walls are. Or where one room started or ended. So despite the restaurant having a small dining area, they designed it to be a nicely put together optical illusion. I find that common with restaurants in Taipei though, as real estate here is expensive. Tokiya however pulled it off nicer than I've seen at other places. Moving on to the cuisine. It's a set menu restaurant. Which means there are no individual plate orders. I like that. It gives variety in small portions to keep your tastes buds guessing. You get to exercise every part of your palate if the set menu is chosen correctly. Looking over the menu, the cuisine seems to be a fusion of Japanese, Chinese and Western. It's a six course set menu with a salad, antipasto, soup, rice roll, main course and dessert. But there is also an unlimited refill mulberry vinegar juice and a final after meal drink. All this for a minor hit to your wallet at $500+10% service charge. The meal turned out gastronomically sublime! The garlic seafood consomme soup was full bodied with flavor. The beef steak with fried garlic and plum was cooked perfectly medium rare and perfectly tender. Supplementing the steak was a red wine sauce and it was beautiful. The hint of bordeaux danced on my taste buds. The final note in this symphony though, was the mulberry vinegar juice. It was considerable sour, but that was a good thing as it was a stark contrast to the rest of the meal. It offers a tasteful reset button to my palette, getting it ready for that next performance. All in all, as you can tell, I was very satisfied with this meal. I know I knock a lot of restaurants for their lack luster attempt at american cuisine. But I believe this restaurant is different. It doesn't try to be something it isn't. This was a nice fusion of multicultural cuisine, taking the best of each and representing it individual unique characteristics. The master chef at some point must have went abroad to study Chinese, Japanese or Western cuisine or all three to really understand it. I hope some of you get a chance to try this place out. At least in my book, it scores with high marks with out having too high of a price tag. Here's some of the other menu items that I had and some that I didn't get to try. If you go, let me know what you had and your opinion. Thank you!
*Images taken from Tokiya's facebook page

Celery and Smoked Chicken Roll

Tokiya Set: Steak and Fish

Caramel-Nut Cheesecake

Osmanthus and Dark Plum Tea (Excellent!)

Tiramisu Iced Coffee, Apple and Apricot Macchiatto, Grapefruit and Basil Seed Juice

Tokiya 陶板屋






plus others, see website

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A hidden eat called Rice Cafe

Yes, it's that time again. Farewell to another Shida 師大中文中心 student/friend. He'll be heading back to New Zealand in a week. So today, we all decided to gather at another small and quaint restaurant that Taipei has so many of. It's tucked away in a small alley in YongKang Jie 永康街 right behind the Shida campus. The restaurant only has about 8 tables, so the wait was 30 minutes. It would be best to have someone come early to make the walk-in reservations because phone-in reservations are not allowed. The outside wall is made of sandstone colored brick with a simple backlit sign that reads Rice Cafe. The interior design is very simple with one long wood bench along the back wall, sandstone colored wallpaper and gleaming white tables. I liked the blue swirl accented glass cups. The collective atmosphere kind of gives off a Japanese beach feeling. As a group, we ordered Katsu-donburi (deep fried pork cutlets over rice), Tempura-donburi, shabu shabu, Japanese style Mapu tofu donburi and Korean-Japanese Kimchi donburi. If you see a reoccurring theme of donburi, it's because Rice Cafe is known for it's great Donburi. It's also known for bringing in a more authentic Japanese cuisine to Taiwan. The restaurant Rakumenya Ramen (樂麵屋) next door is also run by the same owner and brings in it's own culinary following of authentic ramen lovers. The Mapu tofu donburi was of my choosing. At first I dismissed the dish as a Chinese-Japanse fusion. But my knowledgable girlfriend corrected me saying that Japan does have it's own traditional version of Mapu tofu. The kimchi dish however I believe is a fusion recipe. The Mapu tofu donburi turned out spectacular! The rice base is a subtle sweet koshihikari rice, with a slightly spicy and tangy mapu tofu on top, topped off with a little saffron was absolutely the best dish on our table in my opinion. I sampled some of the other donburi dishes, and they just didn't compare to this unique flavor. I highly recommend trying this dish out. Or some of the other menu items that sound equally delicious, but more expensive, like the Chirashi bowl and steak donburi. Prices were quite reasonable for the quality, $180-$350. The donburi bowls also come with pickled sides and miso soup to add to the value. I really enjoyed my meal and would be willing to share this experience with others in the future. It is truly a rare gem of a restaurant in Taipei when it can offer value, authenticity, AND quality.

Rice Cafe
No. 7號, Lane 10, Yǒngkāng Street, Daan District
Taipei City, Taiwan (台北市永康街10巷7號)
11:30-2:30PM 5:30-9:30PM (closed Tuesdays)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Home cookin': Chocolate Brownies

I'm usually much better at baking brownies. So I was quite disappointed this time when my first brownie baking experience in Taiwan went flat. Literally. Take a look at the photo. They came out all flat and slightly bitter. The bitterness was due to using vegetable oil instead of butter. Instead of using my instincts, I just followed the instructions on the box which used vegetable oil. Why am I baking brownies from a box? Truthfully this is the second attempt. But the first attempt was with my girlfriend, baked from scratch. She used her japanese recipe and they honestly came out as brown bricks, not brownies. Anyways, back to my failure. In addition to the flatness, the bottoms were burnt too. Researching further, i discovered i made three mistakes. First, was using a dark metal baking pan. Second, the pan was too large. Third, the cooking method was too hot and too fast. Back in the states, I've always just used a glass 8x11 pyrex dish. which happens to be the right size and material. In addition, light colored aluminum works too. For my third mistake, I didn't take into account the year round 80%+ humidity here in Taipei. Because of the wetter climate, the internet recommends to turn the heat down and increase the bake time. Altitude is a factor too, but not in Taipei. We're close enough to sea level. But to my readers, keep that in mind if you ever find yourself baking brownies on Mount Everest. I'll try again, and hopefully they'll turn out better. Best way to learn is to make mistakes. See you next batch.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Coda Restaurant near NTU campus

After church, a few members got together to have some dinner together at a favorite Italian-American eatery. The background information stories of a man named Andrew Lunman that started his first sit-down restaurant in Taipei called Bongos. Bongos which is very close to Coda near the National Taiwan University campus, is an american style restaurant with a little southwestern flavor thrown in. After the success of Bongos he started another establishment around the corner called Coda, where I found myself today. Coda is a more upscale restaurant serving Italian-American dishes like pizza, pasta, seafood and wine. There is also some baked rice au gratin dishes, poutine, burgers and salads in the menu too. Prices range from $200-350. The atmosphere has a slightly dim but comfortable environment. The colors of cream, dark wood and salmon are used to create a more sophisticated atmosphere. I ordered a spicy baked sausage rice au gratin which turned out pretty darn good. I tried some of the pasta and that also turned out very delicious. It had a very bold and unique flavor, that shows it's a creation from the chef that wasn't borrowed from a cheap cookbook. The wines were eclectic and enticing, but over my budget for the evening. The burgers and fries looks pretty meaty and juicy too. It's something i'll have to try next time. However i'll definitely have to book early. Due to popularity, there is often a long wait and limited tables.

Coda Restaurant
No.23, Lane 283 Roosevelt Rd. Sec.3, Taipei

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Home cookin': Shanghai vegetable rice

For this afternoon, a real simple dish. A lazy but good dish. Shanghai vegetable rice. Well Shanghai or Hong Kong, i'm not sure which. Maybe neither. But it's just a really simple and cheap dish, but great for a quickie lunch. Here is what I did. I just cooked (steam in a rice cooker) a single serving of long grain white rice with chicken broth, a teaspoon of sesame oil, a dash of cumin, one minced glove of garlic. Halfway through the rice cooking, I'll add in, one separated and cleaned head of baby bok choy and sliced chinese fatty pork. You can substitute with chinese sausage as well. Sometimes, I'll also add slices of shitake mushroom. I don't add any salt, as there's enough salt in the fatty pork or sausage that will drip down into the rice. When the rice cooker clicks, your done. Remove it without burning your fingers and enjoy. Oh and don't burn your tongue with hot rice either. It's like eating napalm. Ask me how I know.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fresh Mex night in Hsinchu

After LuGang, we took a train over to Hsinchu to visit my cousin. Then promptly joined her and her friends to a local bar and drank ourself silly. Then promptly crashed out back at her place. This morning...correction, late morning, we headed over to a famous mala beef noodle soup place (麻辣牛肉麵). It's called Sichuan Duan Chun Zhen Chongqing famous snack (四川段純真牛肉麵). There was a long wait so I was very eager to see how good this place was. Seems everyone in the crowd was in the same agreement. After 30 or more minutes, we headed in and was escorted to a small square traditional wood table with bench seats. The interior had a very simple dark wood and white walls theme. It was also very clean and tidy. My cousin told me to order the regular noodles, not the mala one, because they were all spicy to begin with. She was right. The regular one was just perfect on the spiciness. The hand made noodles were Q (Taiwanese term for perfect chewiness) and the meat tender with a good marbling of fat. And their sour vegetables 酸菜 is really good. It's not the normal dark green limpy cabbage you find at just about every beef noodle place. It was lighter in color and tasted a lot fresher. Different and a positive check in the quality department for me. I really liked it! Overall, I'd put the dish up at a high 8.5/10. If your ever in the area, you must try this place out. Apparently it's a chain so there are other locations. Later that evening, we had ourselves a mexican dinner. I cooked some quesadillas and my cousin made tacos. It turned out to be a very simple and relaxing weekend. Also I discovered there was a rather large and extensive indoor bouldering gym called iClimb in Hsinchu too. So i'll have to plan another visit to we can all go together and climb some fiberglass rocks.

Sichuan Duan Chun Zhen Chongqing famous snack (四川段純真牛肉麵)


Saturday, February 11, 2012

LuGang Lantern Festival

My girlfriend informed me of a lantern festival that was happening in LuGang. It's apparently this year's chosen city for the lantern festival and it has an old town, which I always find interesting. Our plan was to head out for one day and then head over to Hsinchu to visit my cousin which I haven't seen in a while. First off, we took the train and only had a small 7-11 breakfast. It took a good three hours. So when we arrived, I was starving. On the way to the festival, they had setup a rather large food market with temporary tents. This could have been LuGang's night market, but I can't tell the difference. Even some permanent night markets are still under tents. There were some unique foods there and some common staple foods. But I did see a guabao 掛包 (chinese hamburger?) vender and that's what I ended up desiring. Usually they use fatty pork but this vender used lamb. I love lamb, so i couldn't pass up this opportunity. It tastes awesome. Although I still think gaobao is better paired with fatty pork because the lamb makes it too lean. But it is definitely a unique take. Moving on, we headed over to where every else was going...the old street. Upon arrival, there were thousands of people, street venders, lanterns and street performances everywhere. It took forever to walk down the street or even take an unobstructed picture. Several of the buildings were over 100 years old. I always enjoy looking at old asian buildings. The wood braced roofs and the intricate stone carvings on the building corners make them so attractive. Looking further, you can see some of the japanese, chinese, western and taiwanese influences in the architecture. Sometimes renovated over the years and you can see a mix of cultures. We stopped by an old cafe that served Taiwanese and Japanese cuisine. It was decorated with advertisements and trinkets from the 20's to the 60's. It seems to be a popular theme here in Taiwan and I like it. It's like visiting a diner car back in the states, you know, like the one's converted from old pullman trains. For dessert we also tried miancha 麵茶, which is an old porridge dish that used to be popular 30 years ago, but has slowly phased out of popularity. LuGang still carries on this dish for traditional purposed. According to my Aunt, the government at that time would give out rice and noodles for free and milk was expensive. So someone invented a way to grind these free ingredients into a porridge that was supposed to taste like milk. It doesn't. But it still tastes pretty good! I regret not buying a $100 NT bag of this to bring home. It's a nice place to revisit, during lantern festival or not. It's still a tourist attraction, so the businesses will still be open during the regular season.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Recommended to Kitchen 66

A while ago now, iBurger and another reader recommended that I try out Kitchen 66 near the Taipower MRT station. I'm always up for a try at some good burgers in Taiwan. As cliche as a westerner craving a burger is, a good meaty juicy burger is just what my stomach was craving this evening. So I took two of my usual culinary explorers with me to hit up with supposed great burger joint. Wandering down the alley, I see a neon sign that looks like the old Route 66 sign, but instead it says Kitchen 66. Walking inside, you are visually confronted with a TGIF looking interior with a black and white checkerboard floor. An old gas pump that looked like it was found in the middle of the New Mexico desert was next to the door. Random bits of old american signage and trinkets were hanging on the wall. And there were several cityscape pictures of New York and Chicago too. I ordered a spicy burger (i believe some jalapeno and Chipotle were involved) and some one else ordered a pizza. The burger turned out to be excellent! Big patties, juicy, cooked slightly under medium and a great spicy tangy sauce. I wish they asked how I wanted my burger cooked though, as i do like it a little more pink. The burger bun to meat ratio was good. However they toasted the bun on the outside not the inside. I don't really think there is an edible difference, but it's a new method I've never seen. Perhaps it's to keep the crisp from being "sogged" from the juices of the burger. The other burger was the bacon cheeseburger, with one lonely strip of bacon. How stingy of them! The fries were OK. I like the seasoned fries from 1885 better. The pizza on the other hand was a huge disappointment. It had the thinnest crust I have ever seen. I mean cheap cracker thin! Can you even call it a crust? Someone please teach the Taiwanese how to make a proper pizza crust. Why do the Taiwanese people like this brittle flavorless cracker crust that can barely hold the weight of it's cheap corner cutting ingredients on top (peas and string beans...really!?). Moving on, I also saw they had fish and chips. I'll have to try that next time as one of my new culinary hunts in Taiwan is to find a good fish and chips joint. I'm skeptical, because even in the States, it's hard to find a decent fish and chips place. For now, stick to their burgers and use the pizza as a frisbee.

Kitchen 66
No. 11, Alley 3, Lane 74, Wēnzhōu Street, Daan District
Taipei City, Taiwan 106

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Home cookin': Soy milk hot pot

Here's something different. Soy milk hot pot. My girlfriend's friend sent it to her as a care package from Japan. I'm not sure of the origins, Japanese or Chinese or other. But I do know it has a oddly striking appearance. I'm used to sour cabbage hot pot, mala hot pot or other broths. But the broth on this is white. At first glance at a restaurant, prior to today, I didn't know what it was. My girlfriend enlightened me on it. So tonight after some time of wonder, I got to try it out. It turned out rather light in flavor and not really much of a soy milk taste. Which is good. Hot pot can sometimes be pretty heavy and oily, so this is a refreshing option. Add more vegetables and seafood, and less meat and it's a rather healthier and lighter feeling meal. If i'm in a hot pot restaurant next time and it's an option, I wouldn't mind trying it again. Anyone know where this soy milk version originated from?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Home cookin': Morning porridge

It's been ages since I've last had Xifan (稀飯) or Chinese porridge or congee. The recipe for the rice is pretty simple. Just cook the rice extra long with an abundant amounts of water. Water varies with how thick or watery you want it. Experiment. It's served with various condiments you can add to it. It varies from the Hong Kong version in the ingredients and the serving method. I love both, but since the Hong Kong version tends to have more meat involved, I prefer it for lunch or dinner better. So for a nice sunny weekend morning, it really brings back memories to have Taiwanese porridge (or so I think, probably handed down from some provence in China). Add some pickled pork, peanuts, chinese pickles, pickled bamboo shoots and tofu skin (not entirely sure) and we have a meal. There are other condiments too, but I don't want it to get out of hand. Served with piping hot congee fresh from the rice cooker. So good..i'm having flashbacks to when I would wake up Sunday mornings to xifan, right before we would scurry off to chinese school. My favorites was always the pickles and the pickled bamboo shoots and rousong 肉鬆 (pork floss). Which breakfast dish do you miss the most from childhood?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bianco Italian

Happy Birthday Macaron girl! Or at least that's what i'll call her to keep her identity hidden. My girlfriend found a nice Italian restaurant in the Daan area. According to the reviews she read, it scored some pretty high points. I was at first still skeptical as good quality Italian food is hard to come by in Taipei. To start off, it's a quaint shop hidden away in an alley, away from the main street. They do have a small patio at the back of the restaurant and a small waiting area in the front where the gelato refrigerator is. If you walk over to the shelving area, you'll find they also sell some Italian ingredients. For example, black truffle sauce, arborio rice, pastas and aged Aceto Balsamic Vinegar. Unfortunately, when we were called we had to squeeze four people around a small table in the front. This was due to a party reserving all the tables in the back of the restaurant for the evening. They were as accommodating as possible. However they said they'd move any available tables over. From the beginning to the end, throughout our evening, there was one larger table in the back that remained unused. Moving on, once the food arrived, I forgot about our small quarters because I didn't want to spoil my friend's birthday. Once we received our food (not at the same time I have to add) we dug in. The pasta was damn good! Probably the best pasta i've had in Taipei so far. The portion sizes weren't too small and the meat/pasta balance was good. Especially the pasta with the black truffle oil on it, gastronomically stupendous. I forget the name, but look for the black truffle oil. Absolutely have to order that one! The spicy pasta with mushrooms 'n prawns and the mozzarella penne was also excellent! In addition, they gave us a plate of rosemary bread and balsamic vinegar. I love balsamic vinegar with bread! For dessert, we got macaron girl a macaron cake covered in chocolate and filled with fruits. It was deliciously awesome! A perfect blend of sponge cake, fruits, chocolate and sweet macarons. I got it in the food court at Q-squared. She loved it and I'm glad she loved it. However to sum our meal up, A+ chef, B- service. Despite the slightly sub par service, the food was excellent. I'd want to come back and try some more of their pasta and possible purchase some of their aged Aceto balsamic Vinegar. Oh and by the way, after asking the wait staff, the risotto does not use Italian arborio. They use a cheaper southern Taiwan rice alternative. I sneer at that, but sometimes you just have to cut corners to meet public demand. Prices range from $300-$500. Reserve ahead.

Bianco Italian